Education and Care Services National Law Amendment Bill 2017

Written on the 4 May 2017

23 March 2017

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIBERAL)

 

Resumed from 9 March; motion of Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills).

Ms CROZIER (Southern Metropolitan) I am indeed very pleased to be able to rise to speak to the Education and Care Services National Law Amendment Bill 2017.

I do so because this is an important bill that addresses the issue of rorting in early childcare settings. Rorting, of course, is very much . . .

Ms Lovell Very topical.

Ms CROZIER  It is very topical at the moment in relation to what is occurring in our very own Parliament, Ms Lovell. This is an important piece of legislation to ensure that rorting does not occur within these services. By way of background, can I just give members some context as to why this has come about. I am very pleased that it has been Victoria that has led the way in relation to reform in introducing quality early education; in fact Victoria was part of this process back in 2012. I would like to commend my colleague Ms Lovell for taking the lead; she was the minister responsible at the time. This work was undertaken really to provide for a national quality framework that was agreed by all states and territories and that, as I mentioned, has been underway for a number of years. That has been continued by the Andrews government.

This bill has a number of purposes. It amends the Education and Care Services National Law in the schedule to the Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 and improves the national quality framework. It does that by doing a number of things. It streamlines the assessment and rating process for education and care services by implementing a revised national quality standard; it strengthens the national law as it applies to family day care services by requiring approved providers of family day care services to only operate from a jurisdiction where they hold a service approval; it removes supervised certificate requirements to reduce compliance burden for education and care services, simplifying and streamlining the national law to address unnecessary administrative processes, thereby decreasing administrative costs for the regulatory authority; and it makes minor and technical changes to specific provisions in the national law to clarify their operation and effect.

Largely this bill is technical in nature in undertaking all of those elements. But can I say that it has come about through the rorting of day care process and there has been significant media interest in this and some of that has occurred here in Victoria. In fact it has occurred recently, where we have seen a number of day care facilities that have rorted the system and literally ripped off the taxpayer by millions and millions of dollars. It is very concerning that even the Australian Federal Police has had to get involved in some of the investigations that have taken place to ensure that money that has been received through these means has not gone offshore for sinister purposes something I note on a day when London has experienced another shocking terrorist attack and that this money has not gone off into those areas. I am not suggesting that it has, but I know the Australian Federal Police has been involved and has been looking at those elements. So this is really very critical in relation to how day care services are provided and how that money is then distributed.

Yes, it is the responsibility of the federal government to be paying for the services, but it is the states and territories that have the responsibility for the regulation of these day care centres. That is a very important element of this bill, because I see that the minister has tried to switch the blame for this to the federal government by saying it was not Victoria's responsibility to assess a provider's likelihood of rorting federal subsidies. It is the state's responsibility to ensure that the regulatory component is undertaken, that these services are actually what they are supposed to be that is, legal and highly regulated childcare centres that are providing child care for the right purposes and that no untoward events occur such as abuse, neglect or any other thing that a child might from be at risk from, at the same time as these services get subsidies through the federal subsidy scheme. Once the state government goes through that regulatory process and approves a service the federal government has very limited capacity to deny fee relief for services provided by that day care centre for those services.

It really is critical that governments at all levels understand that there is a shared responsibility for this. It was set up a number of years ago by the federal government, and the federal government needs to take its fair share of responsibility, but the state government cannot pass the buck and shove all this onto the federal government, saying they should not have paid the money, because it is up to state governments to ensure safe and functional childcare centres.

If we look at this, there are a number of examples in Victoria that have come under question. If I look at reports of rorting from last year, an article was published in the Age of 15 October with the headline 'Childcare rorting estimated at billions but only five investigators nationwide'. According to this report data has revealed that more than a fifth of all family day care investigations in Victoria identified high-risk operations for example, where a child was left alone or corporal punishment was used. That is in relation to those child safeguards that need to be in place. It is up to the state to ensure that there is no abuse or neglect of a child in these settings. The article goes on to say that there was a lack of oversight. Foundations Family Day Care director Kathi Hewitson is quoted as saying, 'The lack of oversight is astounding' and that there were dodgy operators that were reaping 'massive amounts of money' due to government inaction. This is a very important bill to address those concerns and ensure that that cannot continue.

The article goes on to quote Ms Hewitson as saying:

I have seen educators at other services just transporting children but not actually having them in care. I quit a service because the staff in the office were fabricating enrolment records, they were then fabricating attendance records and submitting them to the government.

That is an example of what we are talking about. If that occurs and there is no oversight by the state government authorities, then that money can come into those childcare organisations, and that is where the rorting has happened.

This is a very, very concerning issue that I am very pleased all governments are addressing. We know that the number of day care providers in Victoria has surged. That has been partly because of the easy access to federal money and the unscrupulous operators that have seen this as an opportunity, and that is because the government has not been doing enough to ensure that regulation has occurred. We are two and a half years into the Andrews government, and I would hope that they are clamping down on this. I think that there are many more instances that are much worse in other states and other jurisdictions. There have been some significant reports in New South Wales about very large family day care centres ripping off the federal government taxpayer. It is up to the New South Wales government to do exactly what I am talking about here in Victoria.

It is a real responsibility, because there have been many examples over recent months in Victoria of such services being approved. I refer to Gateway Family Day Care, with directors Masuma Akther and Muslima Mohamed from Bangladesh and Kenya, where conditions on service approval were amended on 2 September for failing to register family day care educators, staffing issues and not running a proper program. That is significant in itself. To have that regulation and oversight is very important. Also in Victoria Milky Way Family Day Care, which lists its directors as Ethiopian-born Jale Tujuba and Adnan Yusuf, was put on notice by the Victorian government for providing false and misleading information, not meeting service conditions and failing to run required education programs. This is from a report in the Australian of November last year. This day care was put on notice, but actually the government should be doing more than that. If there are any concerns about impropriety within a day care service, then frankly this government should be doing more to shut that service down so that they do not put children at risk or rip off the taxpayer by receiving money from federal subsidies.

As I said, I am pleased that we are talking about improving the regulatory component and tightening that up. This was agreed to late last year by all the states and territories to ensure that they can improve regulation and ensure that rorting does not occur in these day care centres. It is very much a welcome piece of legislation. Despite that, I want to say that it is not only this government that has been working on this and that needs to be ensuring that security is in place. I would like to also acknowledge the work of my former colleague in taking it up in 2012.

We are in 2017, so it has taken five years to get to this, and I am pleased that all states and territories are on board to ensure that compliance can occur and rorting can cease. As we know, rorting can be insidious. It is completely unacceptable to the Victorian community. With those few words I commend the bill to the house.

 

 


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